Sinead Piers has begun the circle of introductions.
She’s from Cabra, a single mammy, she says, to the room of expectant faces. “And I want to do stuff like carpentry.”
Or learn other skills, she says. Ones that would help her be more independent. “And, like, if I need to stick up a shelf I can just throw it up myself,” says Piers.
“I hear ya,” says Niamh Lynch, from the top of the room by the kitchenette.
The group of about 30 women, who have gathered upstairs at the Cabra Parkside Community Sports Centre, turn to one another, nodding, chatting and laughing.
One suggests making bird boxes. Another, how to fix plugs. A third suggests a choir to tour nursing homes.
There’s a big appetite for a place in Cabra for women to learn, to meet, and to have company, says Lynch. Some struggle with isolation, health problems, and others are just downright bored.
So she, with a few others, organised this first meeting of the Dublin 7 Women’s Shed to get things started.
Chat in mother-and-baby groups shows there is a want for a women’s shed, says
Marie Sherlock, a Labour Party senator, as she curls into the wall cradling a cup of tea. “There’s absolute appetite.”
It’s hard to set up though, she says, and gestures to Lynch, Jackie Byrne and Tracey Heffernan who stand at the top of the room. “So huge credit to the three for getting the ball rolling.”
“I’ve no doubt that there’s so many more across the community that would love to get involved in an initiative like this,” she says.
The creche next door clatters with children tossing toys and smashing bricks on the floor. Through a large window, a football team practices shots on goal.
Inside, more people suggest camping, aqua aerobics, arts and crafts, and a walking group, the ideas wrapped in personal stories.
“I just thought it’s something I’d like to come to, because I’m bored,” says Martine Donohoe. “I only work three hours a day.”
Her friends are busy. It’s hard to fill the hours between work, she says. “So if this was something in the morning, like arts and crafts or something like that, I’d love it.”
Carpentry appeals to her too, says Donohoe. She could learn online but it’s better to meet and do it with like-minded people, she says. “And a social life.”
Says Sinéad Cooke from the other side of the room: “Just speaking for me, I’m retired, so it was hard meeting other people.”
Beside her, Carmel Maddock says now that she is working less, she wants more activities.
“I’m blown away by the ideas these women have. And I’m just so looking forward to getting involved,” says Maddock.
Dublin 7 has a huge deaf community, says Lynch. “I think it’s important, you know, for us to learn basic sign language, to kind of include people.”
Donohoe likes the idea of a women’s shed more than a group stuck on one activity. “Like you do lots of different things and you can learn lots of different things.”
Jackie Byrne, one of the organisers, says they’ll learn from each other. “We’re going to find so much talent in this group as well.”
Donohoe says she thinks she’ll make friends. Like the woman she was sitting beside, maybe, a new face completely.
“I was chatting to her and everything, as if I knew her for ages, you know that way?” she says.
Donohoe remembers her mother used to go to a ladies’ club. “And always came back in better form and better spirits.” That is why she came along, she says, in the hope she would feel the same.
In a chair by the window, Margaret Hogan says she had spent the last few years feeling isolated. It is partly down to a chronic-pain condition, she says, called fibromyalgia.
It was triggered seven years ago by trauma, says Hogan. “I was attacked and I got it. But it took years to diagnose and it made me very, very insecure.”
She is in pain constantly, she says. “Not many people know about fibromyalgia so they don’t understand when your face is contorted with pain, it’s [not] because you’re in bad humour.”
Lynch says she too has chronic pain. “I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying, how you feel.”
Hogan had to retire early from work. Lynch did too.
“It’s after taking till this point to start – because I had to give up work – to start integrating myself back into the community,” says Hogan.
Menopause can also make women feel isolated, says Byrne. She’s hoping for a side group where people can talk about going through it.
Says Lynch: “There’s still definitely a stigma.”
Menopause is an awful lot to deal with, says Donohoe. “It makes you anxious and not bothering to go outside the door, and that.”
Hogan says she feels sad after hearing the stories shared around the room – of health issues, isolation and boredom.
“I feel sad for women,” she says, the carers looking after everybody else.
“You could be caring for somebody, but yet at the same time, feel very very alone,” she says. “And it’s an awful lot of people that feel very alone.”
But it is empowering to hear that she wasn’t the only one, says Hogan.
“I’m really, really delighted I’ve come,” she says. “I want to be back to the Margaret I was. I was a real extrovert.”